I have been playing around with a few images this week. I have several thousand to work on and I figure it was time to pick out a couple of them and see how they process out. I have heard over the years a number of professional say that if it can’t be processed in 5 minutes an image is not good. Don’t believe that, especially in wildlife photography. There are many great images that took hours to process out and taking time to optimize an image makes it that much better so today and next week I am going take you through the process of optimizing one of my images in Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5. First, let me say that the $9.99 a month subscription Adobe offers for Photoshop and Lightroom is a great deal and any one who considers themselves a photographer should take advantage of it.
One thing about these softwares though, since they are being updated on an almost daily basis sometimes things get reset to default settings. One issue I ran into took a while to figure out and it is essential to processing bird photos. You will most of the time need to create a layer mask to separate your subject from the background. The quick select tool in Photoshop is a great way to achieve that but if you are working with larger images the function may become too slow to be usable. There are settings in preferences that can adjust the performance. Just go into Preferences>Performance and look to the right side of the pane. There you will see History and Cache settings. Select “Big and Flat” with Cache Levels between 4-6 and Cache Tile size of around 1024k and you should see the performance you need for making selections on large images.
What you are going to want to do is make a careful selection around your subject(s) on a duplicate layer and then create a mask by selecting the “add mask” button at the bottom of the layers panel. Make a couple of copies of this layer, turn off the visibility and save them for later. In the topmost layer select the image (not the mask) and now you are ready to do some basic editing of just your subject(s). Most often I will start with the “Shadow/Highlights” tool. Important thing to remember about the shadows and highlights is more is less. Really what you want to do is balance things out. Recovering clipped areas is not something you want to do here just smooth out the balance, you will have to fix the extremes in Camera RAW or Lightroom with the recovery tools or better yet cloning. On this layer you can also make all the otter adjustments with masks making the adjustment layer mask specific to that layer. You can do that by creating the adjustment layer, at the bottom of the pane is a small button click that and you will see an arrow pointing down. That means your adjustments will only be applied to that layer.
Next is the part that I call magic because I spent many years doing things a different way and it took a very long time. Here’s the magic. Grab one of the layers you saved earlier, drag it to the top of the stack and turn on the visibility. Oops! All those edits you just made suddenly disappeared. To get that back click the layer mask on the layer you just put on the top of the stack and in the controls for that mask you will see a button that says “Invert”, click that and the mask inverts showing the edits on the layer below and effecting all the background area. Click the image in that layer and now you are ready to edit the background. Typically I would lower the exposure a little and do saturation and contrast adjustments, you can also apply some blur if the need arises.
OK folks I think that will do it for today. Thanks for stopping by and and be sure to come back next week when I finish processing the photo with some cloning and cleaning up the background.